High school movies rarely contain lessons for an adult audience. Kelly Fremon Craig’s impressive directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen, is an exception. Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2, and pop music fame stars as Nadine, a socially invisible junior tired of sweeping her emotions under the rug. Steinfeld stars alongside Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, and Hayden Szeto.
Styled after the eighties high school comedies of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, and Sixteen Candles), The Edge of Seventeen attempts to surpass these classics in terms of intellectual depth, while maintaining its comedic roots.
For young Nadine, times are tough. She’s still processing the loss a close family member; her mother Mona (Sedgwick) is constantly comparing her to her “perfect” older brother Darian (Jenner); and her best and only friend, Krista (Richardson), is increasingly busy climbing the school’s social ladder. As Nadine’s external conflicts worsen, she reaches an emotional boiling point.
This internal conflict takes Nadine to the most unlikely of heroes: her history teacher, Mr. Bruner, played by Harrelson. While it’s likely he knows a few answers to many of Nadine’s questions and could share some advice in response to her concerns, he offers neither. What he does is listen (Proverbs 17:27; 1 Corinthians 10:24). In a perfect world, we’d all have a capacity to be completely present and free of judgment when a friend needed to express something (Philippians 2:4—5; Matthew 7:1—5). If only it were that easy, right?
The lesson here is that while we may be self-aware, we’re incapable of diagnosing and working through our own problems (Proverbs 20:18, 28:26). All of us have blind spots. If we desire to obediently follow Christ, we need biblical wisdom from trustworthy guides (Proverbs 19:20; Philippians 3:17). God honors our humility when we seek out our own versions of Mr. Bruner and open ourselves to honest feedback (Proverbs 12:15; James 5:16).
While Nadine benefits from these conversations, almost everything going on at home and school seems to indicate that the odds will forever be stacked against her. It’s in the middle of these negative circumstances that she meets a quirky classmate named Erwin (Szeto), whose authenticity is infectious. Erwin, unlike everyone else, gives Nadine permission to be the realest version of herself, something God does with all of us (Romans 12:9; 1 Timothy 1:5). For Nadine, this friendship is the beginning of a healthier, more connected life.
As Christians, we know we’re battling the “bright and shiny on the outside” stereotype. If authenticity feels like nothing more than a concept, there’s an essential step we can take to make it a lifestyle (John 15:4—5; Luke 18:9—14). Genuinely abiding in Christ leads us not only into greater connection with God but also into greater connection with others (John 8:31—32; Psalm 142:7).
The journey from darkness to light, dysfunctional to functional, is a story many of us know on a personal level, but rarely discuss (Psalm 139:23—24). This, perhaps, is the beauty of The Edge of Seventeen. While I don’t advocate this film for younger audiences, its illuminating depiction of complex emotional issues, and forms of adversity that surpass cliché, cause it to ring true in a way that’s uniquely constructive.
Life is challenging. In valleys, it can be lonely, sad, scary, confusing, and painful. In the life of every Christian, these valleys serve the Author’s intent (Romans 5:3—4; James 1:2—4). The challenges we face only create distance from the Lord if we let them. The Lord desires that we, in all things, remain teachable, considering our difficulties as more reasons to seek Him, take faith, and give thanks (Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:16—18).
During his time on earth, Jesus Christ often preferred to communicate ideas through the use of parables. At one point in his personal ministry, when much of his adult audience believed that children made little to no contribution to the world in terms of insight or example, Jesus brought several children near, and through them illustrated the very lessons adults most needed to hear (Matthew 18:1—4; Luke 18:17). In a culture two thousand years removed from the time of Christ, storytelling remains a powerful teaching tool, and wisdom continues to be found where we least expect it (Proverbs 1 & 2).